Back in 2000, Christian Bale, in his pre-Batman days, starred in the film adaptation of Bret Ellis Easton’s 1991 dark comedy novel American Psycho as protagonist Patrick Bateman. Without getting into the sociological indictment of the yuppy culture of the Eighties, Bateman was obsessed with the so-called throwaway rock artists of that very decade. As his character would do away with another victim, Bateman would describe why we should never overlook the genius of such Eighties rock icons as Huey Lewis or Phil Collins. Those scenes would be extremely creepy, violent, unnervingly and squeamishly funny.
As Bateman begins to dismember colleague Paul Allen, Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square” is playing. Calmly, Bateman goes into his most telling soliloquy with the following quote from the movie.
“Do you like Huey Lewis & The News? Their early work was a little too ‘new-wave’ for my taste, but when Sports came out in ’83, I think they really came into their own – both commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor. In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip to Be Square’, a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics – but they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself!” (Thanks to Bret Easton Ellis, his book American Psycho, the movie American Psycho, and Wikipedia, where I nicked this quote.)
For me, this is social criticism at its very best. It’s true that when Huey Lewis & the News first entered our consciousness in 1982 with his fantastic new wavish power pop single “Do You Believe in Love”, few of us gave much thought to this San Francisco Bay Area band at the time, but that would change during the winter of 1983. That was when they dropped their aforementioned Sports album. As Bateman stated in the movie, Lewis & the News really did come into their own. So much so, that their music became ubiquitous on the radio, in department stores and on MTV for the next four years.
During the years of 1982 through 1988, the pop-rock sounds of the working class heartland rock hero was one of the dominant sounds thanks mainly to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp. Yet, other artists were riding their coattails to commercial success, with artists like John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Indiana’s own Henry Lee Summer and, of course, Huey Lewis and his band of square hipsters.
I distinctly remember how, upon the release of Lewis’ Sports album in late 1983 caught on quickly with the Ball State University campus. The song the campus had jumped on was “I Need a New Drug”, of course. At the time, we were in the waning days of the Cheech & Chong drug culture comedy bits actually being turned into complete hit movies and the beginning of the clueless Nancy Reagan refrain of “Just Say No.” That song, for all of its irritable catchiness, became a major hit, the second one from the album, following the smooth “Heart and Soul”. While I preferred the band’s sound on that first hit back in ’82, the new stuff was okay to me. And, honestly, it remains so to this day. But, I cannot deny the impact that album had from the time Thriller and Synchronicity’s impacts waned until the Summer of ’84 explosion of Purple Rain and Born in the USA.
Honestly, Lewis and his band had a vanilla image, even though their snake-like bass player, Mario Cipollina, would have never been caught in a video without a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Most of the band appeared to be guys with whom I might play some pick-up basketball at the local YMCA. Their music was very competent and slick, but are left with few rough edges left to leave a long-term hooks in their songs. But, so many people bought the Sports album that it may be considered something of a classic album.
Sports kicks off with The News’ entry into “the rock music will save us” sweepstakes “The Heart of Rock & Roll”. While this song became the album’s third major hit, I have always found it to be irritating for some reason. That song was followed by the first single released from the album, the briefly aforementioned “Heart and Soul”. In the third slot, is a song that got some radio airplay, but did not make much of a mark on the singles chart, the doo-woppish “Bad Is Bad”. Personally, I kind of like that song since it shows off the band’s slick street corner harmonies and a touch of that blues/blue-eyed soul that The News was actually quite good at. Then, Side One ends with “I Want a New Drug”. As far as being hit-packed, Side One is just that. Yet, after having just listened to it for the first in a couple of decades, I feel the same tension headache that I used to get after listening to the album back in its heyday.
So, I get off my tired rear, flip the vinyl, clean it off and drop the needle. Oh! I remember…
Side Two of Sports kicks off with what might be my second favorite Huey Lewis song ever, “Walking on a Thin Line”. A song that describes a former soldier’s battle with PTSD was a tell that was so gripping to me. Rarely had a song done such a great job describing this relatively new at the time mental illness. The song was not a Lewis original, but I have to give them kudos for taking such a risk with the material on this album. The song’s impact remains to this day, and that may be due to the fact that it never really got much radio airplay.
The second song on Side Two is something of a throwaway, “Finally Found a Home”. I’m sure it hold significance to Huey, but to me, nah! Then, comes the fun “If This Is It”, which only became more fun because of the good summertime video. This song became the last Top 10 song from the album. Side Two ends with two more forgettable songs, “You Crack Me Up” and “Honky Tonk Blues”.
Overall, Sports is an inoffensive album. Unless, you are offended by its inoffensiveness, like I seem to be no matter how often I try to give this album a chance. I know many of you have fond memories of this album. I have fond memories from the TIME this album comes from, but the music itself holds little sway over me. Huey Lewis & the News were a nice little band from the Eighties, but that’s about it for me. Hell, I always found it a little troubling that Ellis was equating Lewis and Collins in his novel. Seriously! Would’ve the News ever recorded “In the Air Tonight”? No way! It might’ve offended someone by watching another drown.
Wait! Maybe Ellis was onto something rather truthfully creepy.